health

What My Salary Gets Me: A chronically ill 29-year-old on income protection.

Mamamia’s What My Salary Gets Me series asks Australians to record a week in their financial lives. Kind of like a sex diary but with money. So not like a sex diary at all. We still find out the best-kept secrets though. We discover what women are really spending their hard-earned cash on. Nothing is too outrageous or too sacred. This week, a chronically ill 29-year-old on income protection shares her money diary.

Industry: Communications / Media

Age: 29

Income Protection: $38,000

Housing: Living with parents.

Watch: A study found the optimal salary for happiness... and it's less than you'd think. Post continues below.


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Regular expenses (monthly):

Rent/utilities: $0

Phone: $20 (Boost, prepaid)

Transport: $120 (Car related expenses) 

Groceries: $60

Stan: $10

Amazon Prime: $7

Prescription medications: $125.05 (I get $56 back on one of my medications through private health insurance, which is why I took out the policy). 

Health Insurance (extras): $37.50 

Total: $379.55

Savings: $70,000

Debt: HECS, approx $60,000 (I fell ill before my salary met the repayment threshold)

Assets: Car, $8,000 

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My life is pretty far from the average 29-year old’s because about three years ago I fell ill with a virus and now live with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - the illness, not the symptom). 

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My salary was $48,000 for a four-day week, but for the last two years my income protection has paid me $2,982 per month, equivalent to 75 per cent of my salary as per the policy. I used to live in a two-person apartment with a housemate, but after a year and a half and a further decline in my health, I had to move back home with my parents for additional support with everyday tasks.

Gratefully they don’t charge me board, as it’s not really the norm in Italian families! It is a huge blessing not to be financially stressed during a time of illness, because often the two go hand-in-hand. I was spending a lot on various medical appointments and treatments in the previous two years, but now that I have settled on a doctor and treatment plan (note: there is no cure for ME), my medical expenses are only the cost of my medications and I only see my doctor every three months.       

Sunday – Day One

Sorry, dear reader, but today’s probably one of the most miserable days I’ve had all year. I’ve had my period for nearly three weeks straight (not normal, I know!) and I’m feeling miserable, in moderate pain and highly fatigued. 

I spend most of the day in bed alternating between browsing online shopping and watching Big Little Lies season 2 on Binge (14-day free trial!). 

My brother has sent me the link to the L’Oreal Friends and Family online sale, and I snap up four high-end fragrance gift sets for $156.40. They’ll make great gifts for an upcoming 30th and of course, Christmas. And I might keep one for myself! I notice later that I was charged an international transaction fee ($3.91 - WTF!) which wasn’t disclosed anywhere. Luckily, I’m with ING and the charge was immediately refunded. 

I need some new clothes for summer as my weight has fluctuated a lot in recent years. It’s really important to me to have clothes I feel good in especially as I’m feeling a little bit down about my appearance after some weight gain. 

I’ve never shopped on Missguided but they are having a half-price sale with an additional 15 per cent off for students. I can access the student discount from my old university email (hot tip: email is usually lifelong for alumni) and buy five dresses for $172, which included a $14.50 shipping fee. 

I over-order because I expect to return some if they don’t fit well, so I pay with Paypal so I can get a refund on the cost of my return through their “Refunded Returns” policy. Paypal suggests a $1.00 donation to their featured charity, OzHarvest, which I add on. It’s my first time shopping on this site, which I’m aware is the epitome of fast fashion, but I can’t justify investing in ‘forever-pieces’ right now, as much as I’d love to be working towards having the perfect capsule collection wardrobe! It’s quite hard for me to walk/stand for very long and I don’t typically buy clothes in-store, so to live in an era of being able to buy stuff online and try it at home is really amazing! 

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Daily total: $329.40.

Monday – Day Two

Over the last few weeks I’ve been plugging away at cleaning mum’s car, which she’s lent me for the last few years but now we intend to sell. It’s very physically taxing by my standards, so after a few hours of scrubbing nooks and crannies (with many rest breaks in between), I resign myself to bed for the rest of the afternoon (I have special pillows that support me to sit upright) to do some errands on the computer and then rest and watch TV. 

I’m pleased that this has been quite a productive day, especially given the fact that my uterus is still plotting my demise. Someone drops by to pick up a Makeup Revolution eye palette that I’m selling on Facebook Marketplace ($10). I received it for free in a Priceline goodie bag. Cha-Ching! 

Daily total: +$10.

Tuesday – Day Three

At 9am I drop Mum’s car off for a new airbag (under warranty) and on the way back home mum and I stop by Sportsgirl to pick up an avocado-shaped chip bowl that reads “Chip Chip Hooray!” for my brother and sister-in-law’s Christmas present ($19.95). 

I feel like I’m on the verge of collapse and starting to feel pretty ill, but the bowl is already sold out online so I’m keen to get my hands on it. I also pop into Kmart to pick up a beautiful white summer dress just in case it sells out ($30) and walk past a surprisingly lovely wide brim straw hat which I add on my way to checkout ($12). 

I notice an international fee from my Missguided purchase has crept into my bank account! Clearly, I don’t shop online enough to know when to expect these, but it’s already been refunded anyway (thanks again, ING! #notsponsored). I then head straight home to bed and it’s not even midday. After a lie down, I feel less ill but equally fatigued, so other than picking up the car, I don’t get much done for the rest of the day.  

Daily total: $61.95.

Wednesday – Day Four

I can’t sleep past 6am so I pat my doggies and feed them then make myself some toast and tea. I have the tea sitting up in bed as my fatigue feels severe this morning and to be productive while I sip my tea I order some dog-friendly green hairspray online. 

The local pug club is hosting a Christmas gathering soon and last year my pugs were the only ones not decked out in festive attire (bad mum!) – so I won’t be making that mistake twice. I have the idea of spraying them green so they can ‘grinches’, but I figure I better do it properly and use a dog-safe product. 

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It’s so niche that I need to buy it online ($28.48) but I’ll get $2.59 returned via Shopback. This purchase gave me pause as it’s a bit frivolous, but it will probably be one of the most joyous days of my year and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day I dyed my dogs green (and don’t worry I can wash it off straight afterwards).

I have an appointment with my psychologist today, who I haven’t needed to see since the start of the year as I’ve been coping well enough. The cost is subsidised under Medicare’s Mental Health Care Plan and my psychologist, despite being the most senior person at the practice, doesn’t charge a gap (what a genuine hero). Side note: this is such an amazing and vital government policy. 

Afterwards, I go to the chemist to pick up iron tablets ($19) and a period-present for myself – which just so happens to be a Flower Beauty lipstick ($5) in a stunning blood red colour (unintentional pun… punintentional?). 

I suspect my recent crash in energy is probably due to iron deficiency rather than my actual CFS, as I’d previously been having a couple weeks of improved health due to a new medication. I also stop at the supermarket for some milk and ‘naughty’ foods ($22.40).     

Daily total: $74.88.

Thursday – Day Five

Breakfast. Shower. Medications. Chores. I have an appointment with my specialist at 1pm so I write down some notes to help me articulate how I have fared on my current medication. 

I’m drowning in exhaustion by midday and very mentally absent, so I lie down until I need to leave for my appointment. Thankfully one of my pugs jumps up onto the bed to give me a cuddle which I desperately need. 

It’s a short appointment, maybe 15 minutes and the specialist bulk bills me, which I see as incredibly kind as I’ve NEVER seen a specialist who does that (even for short appointments it usually costs over $100 out of pocket). 

It’s also worth noting that in my state, it's rare even to find a GP that bulk bills. After my appointment, I go through a car wash (two washes for $30 – I’ll use one on another car). Cleaning the car has been a huge and at sometimes overwhelming to the point of tears physical challenge so the existence of car wash is an absolute god-send. 

I listen to Mamamia’s You Beauty podcast on the way home, stopping at a local pastry shop for a snack but they’re sold out of most things, so I panic and just get a chocolate chip and pistachio cookie ($4). Back at home, I’m so exhausted I have a half-hour nap then watch an episode of Mrs America

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After a coffee and dinner, I’m able to do an hour’s work on the inside of the car then sit upright in my bed on the laptop, fervently wish listing all the beauty buys that I’d love to have if they are reduced enough on Black Friday!  

Daily total: $34.

Listen to You Beauty, Mamamia's podcast for your face. In this episode, Leigh and Kelly talk Christmas presents. Post continues below.


Friday – Day Six

I hop on my laptop while I have a cup of tea and my medications (failing at mindfulness), and lo-and-behold I have a Shoptagr alert for an Hourglass Ambient Lighting Palette ($99). I have a genuine love for beauty products and anyone who does knows that this an absolute cult item, so I only feel slightly guilty for buying something that I don’t really need but have always coveted. 

Next, I do a couple of household chores and stuff on the computer until Mum and I leave for a hairdresser appointment in the afternoon. The weather is gloriously sunny and warm (okay, it’s 20 degrees but this is Tasmania lol) so we stop for a quick bite at a nearby café where I shout Mum lunch (we share meatballs - $15) knowing full well she will shout my hair cut as it’s our traditional ‘girls outing’. 

Our hairdresser is great though, we are old clients, so she charges less than $200 for both of us to get a cut and colour and she always throws in free coffee from one of the best local cafes located next to the salon. I’m beyond exhausted so we head straight home, and I collapse straight on to my bed. 

Daily total: $109. 

Saturday – Day Seven

I wake up feeling like a dead-weight as per usual, so I only have a depressing not-ripe-enough banana and my medications for breakfast and send a few emails. The weather is pure heaven (read: 20 degrees again!) and lucky for me as today will be my first time sailing on a boat. 

My state gave out activity vouchers to support local tourism during COVID – so yesterday I booked a local sailing experience which I am thrilled about. I’ll get the voucher amount back ($50), so I’ll only count the booking fee ($1.25). I get to sail on the S V Rhona H, the oldest working ship in Tasmania – and spent two hours on the sparkling River Derwent. 

There are plenty of places to sit, so that’s a relief, but because it’s an ultra-high fatigue day I start to feel pretty ill by the second hour from pushing my energy limits (aka leaving the house). Thankfully, I’m allowed to steer the ship for a bit towards the end which is a fun and welcome distraction. After I finish my mum picks me up and it’s straight to bed with me for a few hours to recover, and I stay home for the rest of the day.  

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Daily total: $1.25.

Reflection 

Total: $600.50

I’m honestly pretty shocked that I’ve spent so much this week on discretionary purchases, although the bulk purchase of fragrance and clothes are not really typical for me. Like everyone else, I’ll probably be spending a bit more throughout the holiday season and I’m also a sucker for a bargain – so I’m concerned that I’ll let loose and overspend in the upcoming Black Friday and Boxing Day sales! 

I used to use the Barefoot Investor model for dividing my money but since falling I reduced my bank accounts to just two – which is quite a bad thing as now I feel guilty for spending any money at all! I think I’ll resurrect my dedicated “treat” card so that when I’m well enough to go out I can feel okay indulging a little! 

It’s difficult to know how to approach your money/life when you fall ill and don’t know how much you will recover, especially at a young age when you should have your whole career ahead of you. It’s also hard to have a savings goal when I don’t know how much I’ll be able to travel in the future (a major passion of mine) or whether I will have the health stability to work regularly and take out a mortgage. 

It’s not well-known that most people with ME/CFS don’t recover at all, or only recover partially, and I have been ill for over three years now, so the return-to-work prospects aren’t great. My income protection is actually five years long, so I do have time to wait and see. 

Thankfully of course, I live with my parents so my needs are met, but I’m acutely aware and empathetic towards the majority of chronically ill people that fall under financial strain because they need to stop working. It breaks my heart as well because I find (based on lots of interactions within chronic illness communities) that we are empathised with far less than those with acute illness, which is sad because we often need greater support as our illness can be equally if not more brutal and span long periods of time – even decades.   

For now, I’ll just take it day by day and if I have to use some retail therapy and the power of lipstick for emotional support – well the holiday season is the time to grab some bargains and I’m so blessed that I can. 

You can find out more about ME/CFS here.

Feature image: Getty.

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